The Living Without Series

This is a series of posts that I wrote back in 2006 on living with less stuff. Check them out: liv011Living #2liv031liv04

Coal Creek Farm on Facebook

The Chicken Doctor


The Architect


Our Debt Diet Part $$$$

This is a continuation of a series of posts.

Our Debt Diet Part $ couponing and saving at the store

Our Debt Diet Part $$  changing jobs, getting rid of the monkey on our backs

Our Debt Diet Part $$$  college expenses

I quit my job.  What?!  Yes, I had to step down.  The last three years I’ve worked at my children’s school as one of the development directors.  I planned a lot of events and organized volunteers.  It was a lot of fun, but it was a big toll on my family.  When I would need extra people to help set up or do some job I always recruited my kids and Clay.  They were troopers too.  Clay especially was very helpful, and I couldn’t have done the job last year without his help.

We made the very hard decision to bring our two little boys home to educate them last year.  Levi struggled through Kindergarten and wasn’t ready to go into first grade, but his teacher didn’t recommend him repeating Kindergarten.  So, I was stuck with what to do for him.  He has an auditory learning issue, that we’re still trying to figure out.  We have a tutor that works with him twice a week as well as with Isaac who is dyslexic.  Isaac was doing fine in school (with the exception of spelling…good Lord I’ll be so happy when he can use a computer and spell check everything), but since both boys utilize the private tutor and they are best buddies, we brought them both home for school last year.  And the year was okay…not good, not horrible, just okay.

By the end of November I was pooped beyond pooping.  I was spread so thin between the job, my older two kids and keeping on top of the two little boys’ school work.  I knew going into the year it wasn’t going to be a lot of fun, but I stuck it out til the end.  So, we decided to bring all the boys home this year since my income covered their tuition and Seth needed a switch in his Science that wasn’t offered at the school this year.  We gave Seth the option of whether he wanted to attend a public school, but he wasn’t interested in changing schools and he wanted to continue to play basketball with his current team (they allow homeschool kids to participate). This allowed us to tailor his schedule to benefit him the most.  Seth is enrolled in one online college course with the junior college and he’s finishing his junior year with a combination of curriculum that I’ve put together for him that I think he will either LOVE or HATE.  Having him home this year also allows him to be in a theater group.  He’s my actor, in case you didn’t know.  He’s auditioning for a musical this week and he doesn’t really sing, so we’ll see how that goes.  He will be attending the same junior college as Ellen after he graduates and hopefully will enter college with 12-15 credits completed from his high school years.

Seth is working this summer at a local horse ranch and is saving up money for his own vehicle.  He likes expensive toys and is a car nut.  I’m thinking he might have a harder time purchasing an old vehicle than Ellen, who was not concerned with the age of her car.  I’m looking forward to this school year.  Having the boys at home will be a fun challenge.  They are looking forward to the new schedule and they get excited whenever another new book comes in the mail.

But, how is this saving us money?  Let me tell ya just the big three that are making a difference.

Transportation– The savings in gas alone is huge. I used to drive a minimum of forty miles a day just for school.  This also took away over an hour of my time.

Supplies- I purchased very few school supplies this year and what I did purchase, I used a coupon.  I also picked up items at our local Goodwill.  Not having to fill out the school supply list is a HUGE savings.  I remember one year I spent $60 per kid on the specific items they had to have for school and that was with me being as frugal as I could, making them re-use anything they could and purchasing the cheapest items.   Most of those supplies never came back home to re-use.  I also didn’t buy any back to school clothing or uniforms.  Hooray!!

Food– Seth, was such a perpetrator of charging lunches at school last year.  I let the kids have the hot lunch at school maybe once a week, but it was so much cheaper for them to pack their lunches.  Seth would forget and then charge a lunch.  After way too many of these infractions Seth had to start buying his own dang lunch.  Then he started to remember to pack his lunch only slightly better…..or he mooched off his friends.  Anyway, I don’t have to keep certain items in the pantry for those packed lunches.  I can focus on making a good lunch at home using the food we have or even utilizing left overs.  I’ve already noticed how that has changed my shopping trips.

There are some other minor things that will save us as well, but these are the biggest savings that will be noticeable.

But, what about the expense of Homeschooling?  Homeschooling is not free.  We budgeted the cost of school for the three boys and it’s considerably lower than last year. There are some very cheap options out there right now though.  Our area has a virtual public school that costs $99 per student and that includes a computer and books.  That’s pretty amazing.  I’ve got a lot of free and low-cost sources I use for materials that include other home educators who share or sell their materials at a low-costs.  I don’t look for the cheapest items to teach my kids, I look for the best materials to suit their learning.  So, sometimes I’ll spend a bit more on something that I know will benefit them or I’ll search high and low for that item at a discount. I spent a lot of time this summer putting together their curriculum and searching for the items I needed that were the best value.

If you are purchasing books, I found this website to have an incredible amount of the books I needed for very little.  I also utilized eBay and used curriculum sites to fill out our school needs this year.  I have a lot of materials from the years I homeschooled my older two, so I haven’t had to purchase many items for my younger boys.

With all the changes we’ve made with jobs and schooling, we are still ahead of our spending from what we were last year.  We’ll see how the year goes, but I’m much more excited going into this semester than I was last year.   I know this post may not be helpful for many of you that are choosing other options for schooling your kiddos, but I thought I’d share what we’re doing this year.  I’m all ears if you have great ideas about how you’re saving on your kids’ school items.

So, you think you want animals?

So you think you want animals?

Okay, but first do this:

1. Take a pair of scissors and scrape down all your window screens.  Then stick a stuffed animal to the screen located right behind your couch.  Open the window, start watching a movie.  Have a friend come scream MEOOOOW!  at the back of your head through the entire movie.

2. Use a wire brush and rub it very hard back and forth on one corner of all your upholstered furniture.  Then try to fix it.  Use the wire brush again on the opposite corners.  Then try to fix it.  Use the wire brush again on all the corners.  Then try to decide if you want to have the wire brush surgically altered so it can never use its wire bristles again.  Come to the conclusion, you’ll wait until the wire brush dies, then you’ll get new furniture.  The wire brush….it never dies.

3. Your going to need some cat urine.  Put it in a spray bottle and give it to a friend.  Leave the house and have the friend play “Spray and Seek.”  If you find it within a week, you win.  Make sure the friend sprays your cook top, just because, so obvious.

4. Cut the toe out of the left shoe of all your husband’s expensive dress shoes.  Go buy new shoes, put them away on a high shelf.  Discover this is where your friend sprayed the cat urine.  You win!

5. You will need an ice pick.  Now hack away at any wooden furniture leg up to about four inches making very sharp, jagged  thorns coming out of the legs.  Then sit in those chairs when you decide to wear nylons.

6. Buy some really cute pet toys.  Put them in a basket where they will remain on display and never be touched.

7. Buy an American Girl Doll, some collectible stuffed animals, a few expensive sets of Lego’s and about ten Barbie dolls.  Put them all in the food processor.  Pulse three times.  Sprinkle the mixture around the house.

8. Everyday when you come home, dump the kitchen trash in a long trail to the living room.  Then clean it up.

9. You’re going to need to use that ice pick again to make three very deep, long scrapes under the door handle on the back door.

10. Get a recording of a dog barking.  Have it go off every night after you go to sleep.

11. Have your neighbor call you after you figure out a fan blocks out the barking sound to tell you the barking alarm is going off and could you please make it stop.

12 Have someone sleep under your bed and fart all night long.  Occasionally, they’ll need to push up the bed to startle you awake.  If they could make the sound of flapping their big ears every 15 minutes and jingle a tag on a collar that would be even better.  Oh, and that person is very itchy….like all the time, because… fleas.

13. Spend a day putting mulch around your flower beds then take a rake and fling all that mulch into the yard.

14. Poop on the porch.  Step in it.  Clean it up.  Poop on the porch again.

15. Plant some flowers.  As soon at they bloom, cut all the flowers off and strip off a few leaves.

16. Poop in the neighbor’s yard while your neighbor watches.  Answer your cell phone as your neighbor calls to tell you, you pooped in their yard.  If you can lay eggs, then…same thing.

17. Plant a young tree then break it in half.

18, Have someone periodically spray you with mud as you’re walking to your car.  It’s better if they can do this when your running late.

19. Break your fence.  Repair it.  Wait a day.  Break it again.  Repeat every other day for about a month.

20. Set aside your life’s savings, mark it Feed Bill.

21. Find a large pile of fresh manure.  Walk in it, then walk through your house.

22. Use that same pile of manure to plop around your yard.  Now go pick it up and put it in a the same pile.  Repeat this EVERY SINGLE DAY.

23. Find some fleas.  Dump them in your house.  Start itching.

24. Spend a lot of time bathing everything and everyone, because… fleas.

25. Try the non-chemical approach to battling fleas.  This will include a trip to the health food store where you need to spend at least 30 minutes looking at oils.

26. Treat everything with the oil.  Find out moments later that at least two of your family members are severely allergic to the oil.

27.  Go to the feed store and buy stuff called Wound Kote, Wazine, Bag Balm, Fly Traps and some weird spray that costs $35 that you swear is just water.

28. You also need to constantly be searching for a cheap sources for hog panels, hogs, and hog food.  This can go on for weeks.

29. Just pretend you never find these cheap sources and go buy everything at the highest price possible.  Like, totally give up on a bargain.

30. Find everything at a great price the day after you’ve purchased all your supplies.

31. You will now learn how to inject an animal with the proper vaccinations.  Good luck.

32. Have a friend look at you with big pathetic eyes and say, “I’m really sick.”  Take that friend to the doctor.  Pay the doctor lots of money to tell you, “I think your friend is just fine, but here’s a bottle of vitamins just in case.”

33. Try not to kill your friend as his tongue wags in the wind while hanging his head out the window all the way home.

34. Become overly emotional because you’re really pissed you threw away that money but, you’re just so relieved that he’s okay.  Cry all the way home while scratching your friends’ back and beeping him on the nose.

35. Realize the relationship you have with all your “friends” is completely one-sided.  They will never scratch your back.

Still want animals?  If this is the bucolic life you are dreaming of, then you better get to building fences!


Wait, so you DON’T want animals?   Because you think kids are better?  Okay, read this first.


Our Debt Diet Update Part $$$

Making a ruffle for some throw pillows in her room. We bought pillows from Goodwill, washed them to recover.


This is a continuation of a series of posts.

Our Debt Diet Part $

Our Debt Diet Part $$

Paying Their Way

We made the very difficult decision that our children would have to pay their own way through college.  This is something we’ve been telling them since they entered high school.  We’ve had many, many, many conversations/lectures with them about how grades really do matter if you want to get some help with your college tuition.  All those lectures didn’t seem to become real for Ellen until the summer before her senior year and then we saw her start to realize that she was going to have to work really hard to come up with the cash.  Ellen is a good student, but didn’t get on the honor roll until her sophomore year in high school.  I know when kids are young that four years seems like a life-time, but if they screw up one semester it’s pretty hard to recover.  We’re having the same conversations with Seth now,  and again, it just hasn’t sunk in, but watching his sister is helping drive home the point of doing well in school and working hard for what you want.

Many years ago we fully intended to pay for all their expenses, but as we got closer to the deadline and after we took Damn Ramsey’s courses , we came to the realization that paying for their education past high school was not something we could do.  Gulp. Talk about feeling guilty.  My parents paid for the bulk of my education and bought me a beautiful new car before I went to college.  When I ran out of the money they had put in my savings account I had to start working three part-time jobs to cover all my expenses and eventually drop out of school to work.  I am very grateful for the financial help my parents gave me, but I was missing a lot of tools that could have helped me make better decisions about jobs, money and living expenses.  Clay also had help from his dad, but it was all borrowed money.  We spent ten years paying off his school loans and mine from when I had gone back to school after we were married.  It sucked.

I am very thankful that our daughter is not the type of child who feels she is entitled to anything.  Therefore, she knew if she couldn’t get scholarships she would need to get a job.  And that’s what she did.  She started working the summer before her senior year and continued through the school year.  She played sports and was involved in a lot of senior class fund-raising and church activities, she was a very busy girl with little free time.  By the time basketball season rolled around she had saved enough money to buy an old car which was another expense and responsibility that we had to pass along to our children.  We helped her find the car and talk the seller down on the price, but she is the sole owner and caretaker of the vehicle.  We give her a little gas money every month by either transferring the money to her account or giving her a gift card to the gas station.  We have also committed to pay for the car insurance until she it out of school.  So, driving her own car still costs us some money and those expenses had to be added into our budget. Since she’s had her car she has had to put two new tires on it and pay for some minor repairs.  Hopefully, this car will make it through most of her college career.

She  managed to save enough money to pay for all her college expenses by working full-time this summer.  She chose to attend a junior college which is 1/3 the cost of the university.  She wanted to live at home which was fine with us, but I still want her to go do her laundry elsewhere.  That is the one thing that she is NOT very happy about, but if we are going to live happily ever after….she’s got to go.  I told her the stockpile is open to her and she can use coins from the coin jar.  I think she’s hoping I’ll forget about it.

I’m really over the top proud of Ellen and the way she is figuring out her expenses and her ability to live frugally.  She is buying some of her own clothes at re-sale shops or Goodwill.  She knows how to use coupons and is a great bargain shopper and she’s really good at living contentedly without a lot of stuff.

Clay sat down with Ellen and helped her plan a budget.  They worked out a couple of scenarios about how much she will have to make in order to pay for college for the next four years.  When we took her to pay for her books and tuition I was very relieved to hear her say how painful it was to let go of that much money and then the parenting cherry-on-top was when she said, “When it’s my money I want to do even better otherwise I have just thrown away all that hard work.”  She is determined to do it.  I’m excited to see how this year goes for her.

Oh, and just to brag a bit more, she did well enough in high jumping this year that the college invited her to walk on the track team.  If she does well she could get a scholarship as soon as next semester.  The level of determination in that girl increased 10 fold when she heard that.  I really hope she gets some level of scholarship, but mostly I hope she enjoys it.   What I know for certain is that she will not be in debt while she pursues her education.

My Personal Advice for College Students and Parents

1. As soon as they are able, help your kid get a job.  Ellen’s first job was at a fast food restaurant.  She hated it, but loved the pay check.  That job was a stepping stone to a better job. Seth is working at a horse ranch this summer.  It has required us to drive him to and from the ranch, but it’s worth it for the pay check and the responsibility he has learned.  It’s hard in this town for a young teenager to find a job, so I had to drive them around to fill out applications and suggest different businesses.  If you just tell your kid to go get a job, they might not know where to look, so give them a hand.

2. Talk budget with your kids and have them make a plan for saving and spending.  We have our kids save the bulk of their paycheck for a car and school.  They keep a little bit for fun money because we don’t give them an allowance, so if they want to go out with their friends, they spend their money to do so and if they want a trinket or something then they buy it.  This has caused both of them to invite friends over for movie night more than go to the movies and to pass on a lot of “things”.

3. Don’t set your kids up to fail with a need for high-priced designer clothing or they will find themselves discontent and paying for things they can’t afford.  We have NEVER been name brand shoppers.  Ellen still doesn’t know many designer labels.  Seth is pretty big on wearing a certain type of shoes.  The last time we went shopping for shoes he insisted on having a certain brand and style.  I told him I would pay the amount I had in the budget and he would have to cover the rest.  It was worth it to him.  Ellen would rather wear her shoes until they are falling off her feet than use her own money to pay for a name brand.  Both of them are okay shopping at consignment stores.  Ellen thinks paying $5 for a shirt is terrible where as Seth thinks a $12 shirt is a good deal.  As you can see, we have some work to do on the boy.

4. Help your kids be a part of the financial responsibility of their education.  If you have saved up enough to cover their tuition then have them pay for their books or their housing.  When it’s their money that education means so much more to them.

5. When picking a college be realistic. Can you and your kid afford the big university?  If not, then look for a junior college in your area or find a community college to enroll in online courses.  Chances are the classroom size will be much smaller, the teachers will be professional,  and the tuition will be significantly less.  And the best part?  All those credits should transfer to the university.

6. If the only way your kid is going to get to college is with loans then they shouldn’t go until they have the money saved.   I know that sounds hard, but what you are doing is putting your kid and yourself in financial distress.  It’s not worth it.  Do you want your kid to be saddled with $50,000 of debt before they ever have a career?  NO!!!  Should be your answer.  Do you want to carry that debt or would you like to retire and enjoy your grandchildren?  GRANDCHILDREN! Should be your answer. Don’t train your kid that if they want to do something that it’s okay to go into debt doing it.  That’s NOT OKAY.

Okay, I’m sure I’m forgetting something.  Feel free to chime in or ask questions.  I know this one is tough as some of you may already be carrying educational debt.  I heard this story on NPR the other day, it made me sad to think that this mother is so deeply intrenched in college debt all because she said to her kid, “Dream Big! We’ll find a way to pay for it.”  How about we start saying, “Dream Big! Work hard to save for it.”